B2B Marketing ProTips: Where are all the great B2B marketers?

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B2Bnn is proud to introduce a new regular column by marketing guru Lisa Shepherd! Enjoy your first instalment of B2B Marketing ProTips:

By 2020, a million B2B salespeople may be out of a job…

Forrester just released a report titled “Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” which has some provocative predictions on the future of sales in business-to-business companies. The report predicts that by 2020, a million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs. Their roles will basically be made redundant by the growing self-serve model in which buyers conduct their research and transactions online, leaving the sales team out in the cold.

…to be replaced by B2B marketers

While that’s certainly dire news for salespeople, it’s an incredible opportunity for B2B marketers. As the new buyer-driven purchasing process turns the sales department into a dinosaur, it creates a huge opening for marketing.

I see this opportunity every day. More and more B2B companies, who have traditionally done all their revenue generation through salespeople, are turning to marketing to increase their market awareness, generate leads and reduce their sales costs. In short, they are realizing that they need marketing to increase and accelerate revenue generation.

That’s great news for B2B marketing companies. Technological and societal change is driving our growth, and our industry is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s a wave of change that will continue for the next decade, and promises to take our companies to new heights.

But it’s also a problem

The changing tide is also causing a serious problem. Plenty of B2B companies need marketers, but there just aren’t enough of them to go around. Here’s why:

  • Most marketers are creatives or brand people. They’ve grown up with marketing as collateral and events and brand building, which is important, but it’s no longer the whole picture.
  • Or, they’re part of the new generation of marketers who know social media inside out, but don’t have the strategic outlook and business acumen to really make marketing hum.

So, we have two groups who each offer half a solution. Good B2B marketing is about bringing together left- and right-brain thinking, hard and soft skills. To be successful, marketers have to combine financial and data know-how with creative and communications acumen. And finding that combination in one person is a lot harder than you’d think.

Solving the problem

In my B2B marketing company, The Mezzanine Group, we used to see customer acquisition as our biggest growth constraint. But now we know that talent acquisition is a far bigger issue; our greatest challenge is finding the brilliant B2B marketers who will achieve results for our clients. Believe it or not, we look at about 200 marketers for every one that we hire. It’s inefficient and exhausting. We need to come up with new ways of finding talent – and one of the best ways to do that is to create it ourselves.

So how do we create the new generation of B2B marketers?

To help foster talent, we do a lot of community engagement and teaching. I have personally written books, guest lectured at colleges and universities and been involved in marketing associations. In addition, Mezzanine is in the process of putting together a B2B marketing certification program and an internship program to teach the strategic, tactical and operational skills budding young B2B marketers will need.

But we’re just one company, and we just can’t work fast enough to meet the demand. I give kudos to companies like Hubspot who are making exceptional efforts to train the next generation of powerhouse marketers. I would love to turn the clock forward five years to have a broad, deep pool of talent to pull from. But I can’t.

A talent-development manifesto

So in the meantime, here’s my request to you, my fellow B2B marketers. I want you to help create the talent that we need to grow our profession and our businesses.

As an industry, we must make investments in new talent. We must get out there and grow interest in B2B marketing, and then grow the skill sets of those marketers. Here’s my 4-point call-to-action to B2B marketers:

  1. Talk up the opportunities in B2B to your consumer-marketing peers.
    Make a show of it! Too few marketers know just how strategic, sexy and awesome B2B marketing is. Never miss an opportunity to share a recent success or tell the story of the impact you’re making in your company or clients. Consumer marketers often think that they have all the fun. Do you best to dispel that perception.
  2. Guest-speak at college and university marketing classes.
    Make connections with your local educational institutions and your alma mater. Offer to do a guest-lecture or case study on B2B marketing. There is relatively little academic content on B2B marketing, so teachers are generally happy to get access to practitioners. Make a special effort to connect with undergrads and students in continuing professional development classes, as they are making decisions about their career direction. Put B2B marketing on the radar as a good next career step.
  3. Take your stories to mainstream media and to marketing associations.
    Promote the impact that marketing has in B2B companies and the strategic role you play in your company’s success. Raise the profile of marketing as a growing function within traditionally non-marketing companies (like manufacturers).
  4. Launch a paid internship program.
    Bring in new talent for bite-sized projects to teach students and new grads about B2B and expose them to the opportunities. You get the benefit of test driving your next potential hire before you make them an offer.

It’s up to us as marketers to spread the word about the possibilities that B2B marketing holds. Those million jobs aren’t going to fill themselves; building skills now for the needs of the next few years will position the B2B industry for the meteoric growth that’s coming. And those businesses with the great marketers on their teams will be the ones to rise to the top.

Want to know more about what makes a great B2B marketer? Check out my book The Radical Sales Shift: 20 Lessons from 20 Leaders on How to Use Marketing to Grow Sales in B2B Companies.

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Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd

Lisa Shepherd is the author of two books on B2B marketing (The Radical Sales Shift and Market Smart). She is founder of The Mezzanine Group , a B2B marketing company based in Toronto that has worked with over 200 B2B companies in the last decade. Lisa is a frequent public speaker on B2B marketing strategy and execution and was the youngest female CEO to appear on the Profit 100.
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